How I Train: England Rugby Flanker Tom Wood

The rugby star on how pizza can save your career and why rugby's drinking culture is overrated

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As a rugby union player for Northampton Saints and a man even touted for the England captaincy, 27-year-old flanker Tom Wood knows a thing or two about staying in shape. 


What’s the key to a successful rugby career?

Rugby is about being smart and training in the right ways. You’ve got to make sure you can sustain it for a period of time in order to see any real results. You have to think about what it is that can earn you that edge so that you can act instinctively in the heat of battle.

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Which exercise helps you the most?

There’s no shortcut or miracle workout. In my position you have to be speedy and have good all-round fitness, but by becoming strong in one area you can become weaker in another. If I work all day on fitness I could lose bodyweight. If I work on my power, I have to be able to sustain that for 80 minutes. There’s no point being the fittest if you’re too skinny to win the ball or win tackles.

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Is there a part of training that you hate?

Walking lunges or deep lunges. I don’t know if it’s my long gangly legs, but something about lunges absolutely ruins me the next day.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a sportsman?

To remain open-minded. People ask me how to be the best at a certain position, but if you decide aged thirteen that you want to be a No. 7 and all you do is practice breakdown skills, then that’s only going to get you so far. It may be that your body type changes in the next five years and you’re no longer suited to be a No.7 but you’ve missed out all those wider skills that you could have put into practice. As a kid I got told to throw myself into all sports because the skills are transferable.

You’re a huge archery fan, how does that help rugby?

I picked it up when I had a long-standing injury in my foot. When I’m not playing rugby I get quite angrey and frustrated and difficult to be around so I needed some way of escaping that. I got really into the engineering side of it. Tuning the strings, shooting the bow, setting it up, working out arrow speeds and lengths. It’s helped me physically as the position you get into when you draw a bow and arrow is perfect for shoulder stability.

What’s the best way to avoid injury?

A huge amount of injury just comes down to luck. We tape our ankles and wrists and wear head-guards but if you get hit by a 19 stone bloke at a funny angle or you get stuck at the bottom of the ruck and folded the wrong way, there’s very little you can do to stop it.

What’s the best way to stay motivated on cold, dark mornings?

You have to look at the bigger picture. As a rugby player you’re very privileged. You get to be outdoors, you get to hang out with 30 of your mates all day. It’s like being at school. You get paid to run around. If you were doing a normal job you’d be there 9-5 then you’d have to go pay to go the gym and do it in your own time. 

How has tech changed the way you train?

We wear GPS in the back of our shirt for every training session and game. That tells you how many metres per minute you’ve covered and what your top speeds are. Because your coach knows how far you’ve ran and how many collisions you’ve had, they can taper your training to help with recovery.

Do you use fitness bands?

The Nike Fuelband measures your calorie intake and step count which is actually counter-productive for a premiership rugby player because you train very hard for an hour then the emphasis is on recovery, whereas this band encourages you to work hard all the time. It’s good for someone who’s working in an office all day but a professional rugby player doesn’t want to come home and be told they need to do more.

What can’t you eat if you’re an international flanker?

The fat lads in the team have to work hard to not eat too many sweets and chocolate but as a flanker I have the opposite problem. I burn fuel too quickly so I have to eat as much as I can. After a game I go big, it doesn’t matter if it’s a pizza or fish and chips or ice cream, it’s about re-setting the system and getting recovered. Then I eat lean and healthy for the rest of the training week.

You don't drink. Is this part of your training?

There’s a big drinking culture in rugby, particularly as an amateur, but since being a professional I’ve gone off it. It’s mostly a discipline thing. It’s the worst thing you can do after a game when you’re dehydrated and haven’t eaten. It puts you in such a big hole and makes Monday morning that much more difficult.

How important is psychology in sport?

It’s 90% of the battle, but confidence has to be genuine and built on something. If you’ve done the training and you’re confident in the guys around you, that’s where the self-belief will come from. The All Blacks have it. We have a year to get there before the World Cup.

Tom Wood is a Northampton Saints and England rugby player and Wheyhey! protein ice cream ambassador

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